NASA Will Not Change the James Webb Telescope’s NameNASA Will Not Change the James Webb Telescope’s NameGiphy GIFGiphy GIF

NASA Will Not Change the James Webb Telescope’s Name

James Webb led NASA in the 1950s and 60s, during the Cold War–era “Lavender Scare,” when government agencies often enforced policies that discriminated against gay and lesbian federal workers.
Earlier this year, the space agency agreed to complete a full investigation into Webb’s suspected role in the treatment and firing of LGBTQ employees.
In an accompanying press release, NASA officials made clear that the agency will not change the telescope’s name, writing: “Based on the available evidence, the agency does not plan to change the name of the ...
...James Webb Space Telescope. However, the report illuminates that this period in federal policy—and in American history more broadly—was a dark chapter that does not reflect the agency’s values today.”
Odom was tasked with finding what proof, if any, links Webb to homophobic policies and decisions.
“I took this investigation very seriously,” he says.
Still, the NASA report states, “No evidence has been located showing Webb knew of Norton’s firing at the time. Because ... was accepted policy across the government, the firing was, highly likely—though, sadly—considered unexceptional.”
“Webb has at best a complicated legacy, including his participation in the promotion of psychological warfare. His activities did not earn him a $10 billion monument,” ...
...wrote Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an astrophysicist at the University of New Hampshire, and three other astronomers and astrophysicists in a statement on Substack today.
They question the interpretation that a lack of explicit evidence implies that Webb had no knowledge of, or hand in, firings within his own agency, writing: “In such a scenario, ...
...we have to assume he was relatively incompetent as a leader: the administrator of NASA should know if his chief of security is extrajudicially interrogating people.”
“The fact that they did it even though it’s LGBT STEM Day tells you about the administration’s priorities,” she wrote in an email to WIRED.
NASA usually names telescopes after prominent astronomers, like the Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, and Compton telescopes.
He led the agency while it advanced the space program toward the moon landing and promoted astronomy research, but he was a bureaucrat, not an astronomer.
Even though agency officials made the call to keep Webb’s name, Odom says, “We should still use this history as an example of ...
...a past that was traumatic for a lot of people. This past, whatever Webb’s role in it was, is important to us going forward.”
That NASA is choosing not to rename the telescope is “not surprising, but disappointing,” says Ralf Danner, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory ...
...astronomer and cochair of the American Astronommical Society’s committee for sexual orientation and gender minorities in astronomy.
“He’s just the wrong name to show the future of astronomy.”